It’s the power of Literature and imagination! In his acceptance speech (not being able to be present at the ceremony, he sent the speech by Whatsapp, like everything else), the Kurdish author detained in Manus Island says:
« When I arrived in Manus, I created another image for myself. I imagined a novelist in a remote prison. Sometimes I would work half naked beside the prison fences and imagine a novelist locked up right there, in that place. This image was awe inspiring. For years I maintained this image in my mind. Even while I was forced to wait in long queues to get food, or while enduring other humiliating moments.»
The Kurdish Iranian writer Behrouz Boochani has just won the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, Australia's richest literary prize with his debut book No Friend But the Mountains: Writing from Manus Prison.
However, he was not able to collect his award last Thursday, because as an asylum seeker, he is not allowed into Australia. Behrouz has actually spend almost the last six years in Manus Island; a detention centre in Papua New Guinea, under Australia’s policy, which was developed to stop the growing number of people seeking asylum by boat. Paradoxically, Behrouz is being recognised and awarded by the same government and country that is denying him access and that has kept him locked up for the last six years.
No Friend But the Mountains is an autobiography and account of Behrouz’s attempt to make the journey from Indonesia to Australia, and of his subsequent incarceration. Behrouz had to write his book via Whatsapp, over almost five years; messaging his translator Omid Tofighian, as it was the only safe way for him not to lose it. Still his phone was confiscated twice during that time too.
Boochani said to The Guardian Australia that: “My main aim has always been for the people in Australia and around the world to understand deeply how this system has tortured innocent people on Manus and Nauru in a systematic way for almost six years. I hope this award will bring more attention to our situation, and create change, and end this barbaric policy”. He added that writing had helped him survive: “I could keep my identity and keep my humanity,” he said. “This system is designed to take our identity, designed to reduce us to numbers”.
No Friend But the Mountains: Writing From Manus Prison is published by Picador Australia and released on 31 July. It will be launched at the University of NSW on 2 August, presented by Live Crossings, UNSWriting, Pan Macmillan Australia and Picador.
The last sentences of his acceptance speech are an invitation: « With humility, I would like to say that this award is a victory. It is a victory not only for us, but for literature and art and above all, it is a victory for humanity. A victory for human beings, for human dignity. A victory against a system that has never recognised us as human beings. It is a victory against a system that has reduced us to numbers. This is a beautiful moment. Let us all rejoice tonight in the power of literature.»
Let’s rejoice with him and with PEN Melbourne and PEN Sydney who have been campaigning for him so hard these past years!